However that same chapter, Matthew 24, reminds us that we need to be ready simply because we don’t know when the Lord will return (24:42-51).
There has been an endless debate about which parts of Matthew 24 speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, which some of Jesus’ followers would probably still be around to experience, and the return of the Lord when He comes to gather His followers and take them to glory, an event we are still waiting for. But the debates often shift our focus away from the message that Jesus is delivering here: Be Watchful and Be Ready.
We are to watch out, not for the signs of the end, but for the dangers associated with the end: the false prophets and the coldness of our hearts toward the Lord. One particular verses grabs my attention. Matthew 24:12 says: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold...”
I wondered what there was about wickedness that would move me away from God.
It’s easy to believe that my own wickedness could do that. We constantly struggle with temptation. For some, it is the temptation to go back to the old sins and habits that once crippled us. For others, it is simply (or not so simply) the temptation to give up. Being a follower of Jesus in a pagan world is not easy.
This latter thought is connected to another aspect of “increase in wickedness.” Sometimes the wickedness that effects us is not our own, but that of others. The world is not a nice place. Sometime even the church world is not a nice place and when we come to the end of hope that things will get better, we face the temptation of putting our own spiritual journey in neutral, of giving up. This is often especially true when we are asking God to change things, and nothing changes.
Scarier still is that little word “most.” We’d like to think that most people who profess Christ and start out well, will continue to follow Him no matter what. But apparently that is not the case. “Most” will walk away. Some will lose heart and succumb to discouragement and put themselves in neutral in the hopes of taking a break from the hurt that others inflict by their sin.
The problem is that you and I can’t put our own spiritual lives in neutral without losing ground. Everything stagnant, stagnates. If that leftover in the fridge sits there long enough you KNOW what’s going to happen to it. We’ve all done “science experiments” with our food!
So in that state of stillness, of inactivity, our love for Him begins to die.
But there is a second half to Matthew 24:12. It’s actually 24:13 and this is how it goes: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
To “stand firm” is no easy task. Victory over the struggle with our own wickedness and victory over the discouragement that comes from our brushes with the wickedness of others, takes a determination, a strength, that isn’t our own.
Jesus told His disciples that: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Just a little later, the Lord prayed to His Father about His followers. He didn’t ask that they be removed from the world for their own protection, but that they be protected while in the world and made holy through their exposure to the Word (John 17:15-19).
Earlier, Jesus had talked to His followers about the importance of abiding in Him (John15:1-17) and had instructed them to obey Him as a demonstration of their love for God.
Our love for Him remains alive and well in direct relation to how closely we stick to Him and to obedience to His Word. Standing firm is also directly related to how much we trust in His promise to give us victory and to help us overcome whatever pressures are applied on us from the inside or from the outside.
I don’t want to be one of the “most” whose love for the Lord grows cold because of wickedness, wherever that wickedness comes from. I want to stand firm, and to stand firm means I need to stand even closer to Jesus, to know Him better and to model Him more exactly than I am now.
“Sticktoitiveness” is perfectly illustrated for us in Jesus’ famous description of Himself as the vine: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers...” (John 15:5, 6).
You and I have got to remain in, to stick to, Jesus and be in His Word and walking in obedience to the Word, so that we don’t become numbered among those “most.”